Audi Q7 e-tron: New Audi lets eco-warriors embrace SUVs

SUVs traditionally represented everything environmentalists loathed - until now

Make: Audi

Model: Q7

Year: 2016

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: September 22, 2016

Wed, Sep 28, 2016, 11:18

   

There are two sanctimonious ends of the motoring spectrum for whom Audi’s Q7 e-tron is a curse.

First up are the arrogant blowhards who opt for SUVs specifically to annoy other motorists. These are the people who park across three spaces in a multi-storey car park. Moneyed morons.

At the other end are the sanctimonious twits who likes nothing more than haranguing everyone within earshot about our environmental sins. In bygone times they would have been “hell and damnation” curates, but now they consider themselves on a higher plane than any deity dreamed up to date. Eco-evangelist idiots.

In the middle are the rest of us, trying to get on with life without doing too much harm, looking for a little luxury along the way. We generally ridicule one or other of these lunatic fringes to justify buying the thirsty old banger or the impractical eco-friendly snail.

We accept the contradictions: we want a seven-seat tank yet it needs to be easy to manoeuvre; we want to impress but can do without the inevitable ire or envy.

The decision usually comes down to the bank balance. Many will publicly attest – from the bar stool or outside the school gate – that they don’t want a “fancy” car or “or one of those SUVs”. Few listening believes a word of it.

The arrival of plug-in hybrid SUVs calls time on the strawman arguments that arose on all sides of the motoring debate. What you have here is a 3-litre diesel SUV with the ability to run fully on electric power for up to 56km at a time.

The battery pack can be charged at proper recharging points – either the public stations or house points that owners can get fitted – or else through the regular three-pin socket, though this takes longer. I tried both and from a three-hour charge on a regular house socket I managed more than 20km of full electric driving, a large chunk of which was at motorway speeds. Overnight from the proper home charging station I always had 50km when I needed it in the morning.

Recharging time

Recharging time is impressive. On a household socket it takes eight hours to fully charge or just two hours 30 minutes via a charging point. In return you get a combined (diesel and electric) range of 1,320km. Emissions are 48 g/km compared to 161 g/km for the regular Q7 3-litre diesel. The e-tron version is also faster: 6.2 seconds from zero to 100km/h compares with 7.3 seconds for the regular diesel.

During my week with the car I also got the chance to test it on a long-range trip. Fittingly it was to report on the latest court case involving Audi’s parent, VW Group, and its emissions scandal. With 25km or so left in the charge I got out of the environs of Dublin before the 3-litre turbodiesel had to take over. The switchover is smooth, better than either of its two direct rivals at BMW and Volvo.

The test car was fitted with Audi’s adaptive air suspension, a pricey option at more than €3,000 but a little luxury that pays off if you are tackling west of Ireland roads. It also helped dampen a lot of the natural body roll you might expect from this car in tight bends.

Given its size and weight you would suspect a lot more body roll, but the Q7 handles well, better than its Swedish rival the Volvo XC90. It’s not nimble but the Quattro four-wheel drive delivers good grip. The added weight of the battery in the back does make the car feel heavier braking and in corners.

Traditional hybrids

Time for a little more on the technicals. What we have here is the same 3-litre V6 diesel that you find in the regular Q7. Added to this is a battery pack that is also charged through the same regeneration processes – braking etc – used by more traditional hybrid cars of old.

The net result is an electric car for town and a diesel SUV with four-wheel drive for the longer trips. On paper it makes perfect sense. It all adds up to an average fuel economy claim of 1.9 l/100km or a whopping 149 mpg in old money. Not so long ago anything claiming that sort of figure was made of old toilet rolls covered in solar panels and crossed the Australian outback driven by a lycra-clad driver quickly turning into a raisin.

In reality once the battery pack has run down, you have a heavy hybrid on your hands. On long trips you can see the results: while about town I nipped about silently without stirring the diesel tank, when I travelled west I managed less epoch marking figures, getting 8 l/100km – or just 35mpg – over a 200km stretch.

In Audi’s defence the same reality check occurs with its two direct rivals, the Volvo XC90 T8 and the BMW X5 xdrive40e. Neither delivers close to the claimed fuel economy when the battery charge runs out.

The truth is that most buyers will find its electric range perfectly practical for everyday needs. Most of us don’t do more than 50km a day. I reckon many buyers will go 10-12 days at a time without troubling the diesel engine.

In fact the Q7 has more going for it because it has the more frugal diesel compared to the four-cylinder petrol engines fitted to both rivals. It also gives the Audi a better surge of pulling power – or torque – that’s always been a diesel trait.

Where the Audi loses out is in spaciousness. Both it and the BMW sacrifice third-row seating for the battery pack, whereas the Volvo XC90 manages to retain its seven-seat format. It’s a shame, because many buyers opt for the Q7 because of the third row of seats. Otherwise they could opt for the Q5 and raid the options list with any leftover cash.

Inside the cabin is largely the same as the luxurious regular Q7, complete with Audi’s impressive 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. While the Volvo XC90 has rightly received rave reviews for its upmarket tech cabin, many will find Audi’s more intuitive. Both leave BMW’s X5 interior looking very outdated.

Price plays into the hands of rivals. The Q7 e-tron starts at €83,625 and that’s after getting €2,500 in VRT relief and a €5,000 SEAI grant. Compare that with the €75,950 price for the Volvo XC90 T8, or €71,550 for the BMW X5 plug-in.

Ultimately the Audi has the edge in that it offers diesel efficiencies when the battery runs out, while it also handles better than the Volvo. The biggest letdown is actually the need to sacrifice that third row of seating for the battery pack. The seven-seat XC90 plug-in steals a significant advantage on it there.

Audi’s plug-in electric hybrid endeavours are still best exemplified by the impressive A3 e-tron model, its best mix of premium refinement, electric motoring and practical range.

The great news about this car’s arrival – and its premium rivals – is that it silences both extremes in the SUV debate.

As the tech revolution in motoring world begins, this is the best balance between the new electric age and the demands of everyday life. It lets us embrace the new future without sacrifice - or at least it would if they didn’t have to lose the third row of seat.

Lowdown: Audi Q7 e-tron

Engine: 2,967cc six-cylinder diesel combined with electric battery pack

Output: 373bhp

CO2 (motor tax): 48 g/km (€170)

Charging time: Fully charged – 2.5 hours on charging point/8 hours on household socket

Electric only range: up to 56km

Price: €83,625 (after grant/relief)

Our rating: 4/5

Verdict: Electric SUV with diesel practicality - the best blend for luxury SUV buyers